For guides, the river season is like a jam-packed, adrenaline-filled miles-long technical rapid, requiring stamina and control. The off-season, though, the off-season is about slowing down and recharging. The off-season is a change of pace: an opportunity to find balance, and the space to feed other passions, interests, and hobbies. The off-season is the river’s eddy. It’s the calm water that furls upstream behind obstacles in a rapid or along the river’s bank. A respite. A time to catch your breath, collect yourself, and survey what’s around you before peeling out into the current once more.
Every guide fills their off-season with something different. Maia Claman, Idaho guide and soon-to-be nurse practitioner, has filled her off-season by pursuing advanced degrees. She writes “when I leave [the river] for the predictability of a school schedule and a bed frame and screen time and knowing what day of the week it is, I never want to do it. But my body welcomes it. The off-season is my opportunity for introspection and self-care.” The river season – for all its joys – has an unpredictable nature. Schedules change last minute, you rarely sleep in the same place for more than a couple of days. Maia says, “For me, time off represents a time for me to regain control of my body, to reset my mind, and to place myself into a more restorative routine.”
That restorative routine for Rose Triolo, an Idaho guide and EMT, is about getting grounded and building a sense of place. Rose chases rivers before settling down to ski patrol or work as an EMT with the Fire Department. She says she “revels in the tiny roots that I put down over the course of the few months that I’m stationary.” Although the transitory and ever-changing aspect of river life is part of the draw, the inverse is equally important. “One of my favorite parts about winter is actually being in one place,” Rose says. “The first thing I do when I move somewhere new is decorate my room. That room is usually the first designated personal space I’ve had in over six months.” The adventures and thrills of summer are often made possible by the stillness and slowness of the offseason.
Eric Shedd, an Idaho guide and renaissance man, has a variety of job titles: musician, carpenter, massage therapist, ski bum. He says that the off-season is “a time to find much needed solo time after a season of taking care of others.” He recognized the irony of working in recreational spaces, “I always laughed about how little I had explored these wilderness areas that I worked in because I was too busy running laps on their circulatory systems.” A seasonal guide’s existence mirrors nature’s cyclical patterns and Eric loves “the opportunity to explore on frozen water: skiing on future rapids.”
The off-season gives guides the space to be and to play in those wild spaces. But most importantly, to take our time while we do it. As the water flows slow down, and nature’s frenzy of summer and autumn activity start to give way to winter’s dormancy, it is such a privilege to slow down with it. To meander, to wander, to amble and ramble through the mountains and deserts is a physical wonder. But the emotional and mental meandering is just as special.
The slowness of the off-season also creates a space ripe with creative potential. It is a coveted aspect of the off-season for Sarah Mallory, Idaho guide, maker, and owner of Kinshop because it “is my chance to really lean into the other facets of my life that bring me joy and fulfillment and feelings of growth.” She writes that “only during the off-season do I have the space to extract a handful of the ideas bouncing around in my head and transform them from wispy, floating thoughts into something tangible.” She “shakes awake the right side of [her] brain” and digs into the act of creating, which she calls the “balance to river season.”
Everyone needs balance. The river season is thrilling and joyous, but it’s also an act of grueling endurance. Having an off-season is necessary to maintain balance. Just as spring needs winter, guides need a retreat from wild wanderings to nourish, rest, renew and recharge.
The thing about an eddy is you’re not there forever. There’s always something exhilarating downriver around the next bend. And isn’t the offseason the same? In some ways, the off-season is really just preparation for dropping back into the rushing rapids of the on season.